By Sperm Edwards
People have a lot of revisionist history with regards to this FOâ€™s acquisition of FAâ€™s. Backtrack to one year ago.
To start the â€™06 off-season, there WAS no salary cap for â€˜07. Nor were talks going well as late as the last week of February (allegedly). What you do with your current players & situation depends greatly on how the cap is going to change in the future. How much will it go up this year? How much will it go up next year? Will there even BE a salary cap next year? Important decisions and negotiations with the existing team cannot appropriately commence until these questions are answered.
So when the dust finally settled & there was a new CBA in place, the Jets were some $25M over the cap. Sure, $14M of it was Ty Law, and we cleared $11M of it by releasing him. But then there were other cuts & trades & restructuring of incumbent veterans. Ellis, Coles, Martin, Kendall, and Pennington had their contracts reworked for the year.Â Sort of.Â Martin took a pay-cut, but he took a pay cut to still GET paid when he probably knew his career was over. His cap number was still millions (and still is this year & probably next year, too). Chadâ€™s base salary was reduced, but since his incentives were tied to playing-time â€“ incentives he reached â€“ he still counted the full original amount. Fabiniâ€™s release cleared up some space, but still left a 7-figure dead-cap hole. Donnie Abraham & Chrebet still counted millions more even though they both retired. Kevin Mawaeâ€™s mouth and age and were the last thing a 35 year-old, first-time HC (and similar-aged, first-time GM, and even younger, first-time OC, and first-time DC) needed. So he was cast off, along with another few million in dead cap space.
Millions were still tied up in players who were released or retired, or who we couldnâ€™t release and ended up not being in the Jetsâ€™ present/future plans: Barrett, McCareins, Blaylock, Martin, Fabini, Mawae, Law, Mickens, Legree, Fiedler, Gardner, Morley, Sowell, Pouha, Strait, Maddox, and Pagel gobbled up $26M of the $102M cap for 2006. Robertson ate up $9M more. Pennington reaching his playing incentives made his year compensation $10M ($1M salary, $3M roster bonus, $6M in playing-time incentives) â€“ and $3M/yr still comes off the cap from his original $18M SB.
The #4 pick in the country is not free; Dâ€™Brick got $18M guaranteed. Add a few million more for the rest of their picks, including another 4 picks on day-one.
Countless fans wanted the Jets to trade that #4 pick, and the #29 pick, and the #35 pick to move up 2 slots to grab Reggie Bush. Tannenbaum was slammed by countless fans and talking-heads in the sports media. So instead of a franchise left tackle, center, future QB, and the #37 pick this year, these malcontents wanted a single 200-lb halfback who canâ€™t shoulder the load of a 370-400-touch season, who would command a $50M+ contract with $26M in guaranteed bonus $, and leave us with no money or draft picks higher than #71 to acquire decent linemen to block for him. Go with Adrian Jones at LT and Norm Katnik at C they said. Bush got 3.6ypc en route to 1300 total yards & 8 TDâ€™s last year behind a GOOD line with the NFL MVP runner-up at QB and a bruiser-veteran to give him all the breathers he needed and hide his lack of pure power in short-yardage situations. Tannenbaum passed on this; a move I agree with as much now as I did then.
So what to do in free agency?
Well, while most of the marquis free-agents were getting scooped up, the Jets had to go on the cheap. Why? Same old Jets? How quickly people forget.
We werenâ€™t able to find an appropriate trade partner for John Abraham in the opening weeks of FA. Adding FAâ€™s then would have meant his outright release without any compensation to stay under the pre-season cap. So while other teams were shopping around, we had about $7-8M of cap space we werenâ€™t able to use yet. One player we made a run at, but were unsuccessful for both money & his desire to remain where he was, was 32 year old RT John Runyan in the neighborhood of $3M/yr. And itâ€™s not like there were dozens of marquis free-agents available anyway, with every team getting an extra $8M in cap space.
The Jets had somewhere in the neighborhood of $13M in space to use on a dozen roster spots. Added were Dyson ($1.7M cap figure in 2006), Dwight ($1M), Clement, Chatham & Kassell ($700K each), Von Oelhoffen ($2.5M), Hamilton ($1.3M), Mosely ($350K), Teague ($700K), Barlow ($2.5M), and some others at the league minimum (Sean Ryan, etc.) were brought in. UFA Baker was re-signed for less than $1M/yr. Moore was extended through 2010 at $1M per.
Without knowing whether Chad could ever throw a ball again (let alone be a starting NFL QB), the Jets needed a backup plan and signed Patrick Ramsey for under $2M and a 6th-rounder.
Then people started the â€œOh-no! Same olâ€™ Jetsâ€? bandwagons again because we â€œletâ€? the Dolphins get Daunte Culpepper. How that was going to put THEM over the hump, bring them from 9-7 to 11-5 or 12-4, and leave us (and New England and Buffalo) in the dust. Saban ended up rushing him back (assuming heâ€™ll ever be ready again), the Dolphins went 6-10, and then their Head Coach quit.
With so many positions needing to be filled, partly because of old players released and partly because many of the existing players not fitting in the new defense Mangini wanted to install, people STILL wanted us to send a first-rounder to Atlanta for Matt Schaub because he had a good game in a 2005 loss to the Patriotsâ€™ weak secondary and injury-ravaged defense. Oh, and then we should give Schaub a new contract before we know what heâ€™s worth. (Given the collective ripping of some for acquiring Ramsey as an insurance policy, how high of a building they would have collectively jumped off if Chad STILL beat Schaub out for the starting job in camp?)
Just get this player and all our problems will be solved. Just get that player and all our problems will be solved. News flash: the Jets were not a player or two away from the superbowl. They were 10-15 players away.
We had some solid LBâ€™ers (Vilma, Barton, and Hobson) and one good, known-quantity at WR (Coles). Opposite Coles was unimpressive nice-guy Justin McCareins and little-used Jerricho Cotchery. Rhodes had a decent rookie season but was hardly the great player he ended up being in year two. Eric Coleman was coming off a horrible sophomore- slump season. Our CBâ€™s were Barrett and Miller. Our DL was Ellis, DRob, and Pouha. No one knew if then-bust Bryan Thomas could make the switch to LB (let alone be any good even if he did). Our OL was Adrian Jones, Pete Kendall, Norm Katnik, Brandon Moore, and Steve Morley. Our TEâ€™s under contract were Doug Jolley, Joel Dreesen, and James Dearth. Our RBâ€™s consisted of a permanently-injured Curtis Martin, Derrick Blaylock, and Cedric Houston with BJ Askew at FB. QBâ€™s were Chad Pennington, coming off his second of two invasive shoulder surgeries in an 8-month span, and Brooks Bollinger.
Sure. Just add Reggie Bush to this crew and all our problems would have been solved. Right. Why do I bring this up? This year we have many holes and weaknesses as well. A 10-win season versus a soft schedule has some people convinced weâ€™re a player or two away. Just like the geniuses who think we were a kicker away after 2004.
Not counting our anti-gunslinger at QB: Barton hates NY; Vilma is nothing special in the 3-4; Hobson, while a sure-tackler, doesnâ€™t possess the speed to generate a reliable pass-rush from his side; Kendall generates no push on the line and is getting old; Moore is a backup talent thrust into the starting role; Hank Poteat was our 2nd-best CB last year; no one truly established himself at SS in â€˜06; DRob, while he improved greatly as the year progressed, is still ill-suited for NT (and costs more to cut than keep, even IF some phantom starting-NT existed in the draft or FA); Kimo is a huge weakness at DE (to say the least), Ellis was just ok, and our only backup for either one is CJ Mosely; our HBâ€™s are 2nd-year Leon Washington and the fragile Cedric Houston. As of right now, our starting RT is Adrian Jones and our starting FB is either James Hodgins or Jason Pociask. McCareins is unreliable and overpriced. Ditto David Barrett. No one knows if Brad Smith will pick up the WR position well enough to be a reliable 3rd/slot receiver.
The only difference between this year and last year is some more cap space. Cap space that will disappear in the bat of an eye with one sizeable FA blunder. But yet again, many are convinced that this one or that one star player will make it all better. I was all for Nate Clements until I learned what his demands (and eventual ballpark contract terms) were, that made this good-but-not-marquis CB the highest-paid defender in NFL history.
Bidding wars for a single player are dangerous games for a team to play when there are so many weaknesses to fill. Breaking the bank to upgrade from decent to great at one position in free agency (Hobson to A.Thomas/J.Porter) or at one position in the draft – where no player is guaranteed future greatness – (Chad to Quinn and/or Leon to Adrian Peterson), instead of keeping cap-friendly draft picks & frugally upgrading from garbage/nothing to good at many positions (DE, CB, FB, RT, RG) is a recipe for turning into the Dan Snyder Redskins.
This staff has already started building the foundations of a solid team for years to come (Ferguson, Mangold, Dyson, Leon, and possibly Clemens, Eric & Brad Smith, Drew Coleman & Schlegel); made existing unspectacularly-performing players realize their true potential (Thomas, Rhodes, Cotchery); and brought a 4-12 team in cap hell back from the dead. All in first-ever seasons on the job for the GM, HC, OC, and DC. Have a little faith. Failing to bust our nut on one 30 year-old player, and therefore labeling this off-season – one day into free agency, mind you â€“ as â€œSame olâ€™ Jetsâ€? is a mantra for the impatiently fickle and immature.